NAIROBI, June 15 (Xinhua) -- A global wildlife group on Sunday warned of rapid depletion of live chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans due to thriving illegal trade.
In a statement issued ahead of the 1st UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) that will be held on June 23-27 in Nairobi, the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) said a total of 38 great apes have been confiscated thus far in 2014, an average of 1.8 per week, double the previous year's figure of 0.9 per week.
"The number of apes being trafficked and confiscated indicates that serious threats remain to wild populations," GRASP coordinator Doug Cress said.
GRASP is a unique alliance of 95 national governments, research institutions, conservation organizations, UN agencies, and private companies committed to ensuring the long-term survival of great apes and their habitat in Africa and Asia.
Cress said the UN officially recognized the illegal wildlife trade as "serious crime" in 2013, and the illegal trade in wildlife will be a major theme of the UNEA in Nairobi.
Law enforcement experts indicate that only a fraction of any contraband is ever confiscated. Cress said GRASP and its partners are in the process of building a great apes illegal trade database, which will track the illicit traffic.
All great apes are classified as "endangered" or "critically endangered," and are listed as Appendix I by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Unlike wildlife contraband such as elephant ivory or rhino horn, the overwhelming majority of great ape confiscations occur within national borders. Only 5 percent of the total confiscations in 2013 and 2014 crossed international borders.
Cress said due to the social nature of great apes, a single confiscated ape can represent many more that died during the actual hunt or succumbed to injuries, illness or mistreatment while in captivity.